What’s a Wellness Plan? On Ways to Pay for Your Pet’s Preventive Health Care

3. Credit cards. The trouble, of course, is that pet health insurance (if you’re smart enough to have it) doesn’t cover everything. Though some offer peace of mind to the tune of covering 80 or 90 percent of your total financial outlay, you’ll still have to shell out some funds along the way — including deductibles, of course.

Which is where credit cards come in. Because when your bank account says no way, something’s got to give. Some companies specialize in offering lines of credit dedicated exclusively to veterinary care. (That is especially useful in the event of an emergency.)

But we all know that keeping a balance on our credit cards is an expensive way to pay for stuff. Not exactly ideal.

4. Low-cost preventive care. Depending on your municipality and your income level (and sometimes your age), you might be eligible for subsidized routine pet health care at a reduced fee at special low-cost clinics.

But remember, “routine care” means different things to different people. Some places think a rabies vaccine is all it takes or maybe some deworming, too. Which probably explains why I don’t know of one publicly subsidized low-cost clinic that offers prophylactic dental cleanings, much less basic heart screenings for predisposed breeds.

Now, on to the answer you were waiting for:

5. Wellness plans. The first three approaches I've mentioned are valid, and the fourth option, while not ideal, is still better than no health care. But the options don’t always work for everyone. Or, to be more precise, let’s just say that some are more appropriate than others. After all, most of the approaches will still have pet owners scrambling to find ways to pay for the simplest things a veterinary hospital offers. Or worse — going without.

Which explains why some veterinary hospitals now offer their clients what some consider an easier, more complete system for preventive health care. Though the plans vary, they tend to work like this: You pay a manageable sum every month in exchange for the right to see the veterinarian for all things routine. In some cases, they’ll also offer you a discount on accident and illness care, too.

Such plans are based primarily on the notion that you’ll come to the vet more often if you know your visit is covered. In that way, they're kind of like pet insurance. But they're not the same. Here’s how: Wellness plans are almost always designed to be exclusive to a particular practice. While the vast majority of pet health insurance carriers will reimburse you regardless of where you go to get your health care, wellness plans require you to remain loyal to your location.

Which is part of the point, from a veterinarian’s point of view: In exchange for a good deal on a wide spectrum of your pet’s wellness-based health care, you agree to keep coming back. Makes sense, right?

To me, it does. Which is why our hospital aims to offer such a plan come 2015. But does that mean we’ll stop offering credit services and recommending pet health insurance? Not a chance. Because sometimes the best approach is a combination of options.


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